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School district will ask for $10 million levy increase

Independent School District 196 will ask voters to approve an operating levy in November that would bring in an additional $10 million per year and cost the owner of an average-value home an additional $15 per month.

School board members voted Monday to pose a ballot question that would, if successful, revoke the current $1,110.95 per pupil levy that expires in 2015 and replace it with a levy that would bring in $1,485 per pupil each year for the next decade.

The current levy brings in about $20 million each year for the district. The new one would bring in $30 and could increase slightly each year at the rate of inflation.

The proposed new levy is just a bit above the conservative range included in a presentation made by consulting group Decision Resources. That group, which conducted a survey of 400 district residents, suggested the district could feel confident asking voters to approve a levy that brought in an additional $4 million to $8 million per year.

That survey found strong support for renewing the existing levy and found many residents willing to pay more. Even at $36 million — a $16 million increase over the district’s current levy and the most it could ask for — the survey found 49 percent of residents identified themselves as supporters or strong supporters and 47 percent opposed or strongly opposed the proposal.

The district asked voters to approve a $16 million levy in 2010 but voters rejected the proposal.

The district has said the levy is necessary to reduce the impact of cuts it expects to make in the coming years. Current projections call for $9.6 million in budget adjustments for the 2014-15 school year and another $23.5 million in adjustments for the 2015-16 school year.

The district made $34 million in budget adjustments from 2009-2012, and superintendent Jane Berenz said Monday that it’s getting harder to find places to cut.

“We’re probably going to get to the point where we’re going to have to eliminate programs,” she said. “We’ve stretched as far as we can.”

The district expects to have a list of potential budget adjustments available at its next meeting.

The state of Minnesota, which provides the vast majority of school funding, increased its contribution this year, but much of the new money was dedicated to programs like all-day kindergarten. Increases to the district’s general formula were roughly 1.5 percent, less than the rate of inflation.

School board members said Monday it is time to ask voters to contribute more.

“We’ve been talking about a levy for years,” board chair Rob Duchscher said. “We’ve cut. We’ve brought in advertising revenues. We have done every conceivable thing to prevent a levy, but it’s time.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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